You can't build a quad without a soldering iron. Well... you can, but it'll be a mess. The most important characteristic of your iron is that it be temperature controlled. A temperature controlled iron quickly achieves a precise, adjustable temperature. It can work equally well on tiny solder pads and giant XT60 connectors. It won't damage itself by overheating if you set it down for a while.
A stunningly good feature and accessory set for the price leaves me almost suspicious. But for just $25 you won't even mind buying a second if your first one dies. The above link is to the 110v version. Here's the link to the 220v version if that's what type of electricity you use.
Cheapest Worth Having #2
I first learned of Aoyue soldering stations in my interview with Randy Rubinstein from SRA Solder. In addition to being reliable and functional irons, Aoyue stand out for having a wide range of accessories and replacement parts available. This isn't a replace-it-when-it-breaks iron. In fact, if you're in the U.S. you can order replacement parts direct from SRA.
Compared to the Yihua, I like the base on the Aoyue better for bench use. The Yihua might be better if you moved around more often. Frankly, I also think the Aoyue is better quality and more reliable. But some international buyers may find the Yihua easier to purchase.
If this iron were just a little easier to hold, it'd be my choice for best iron overall. But if it were easier to hold, it'd be bigger, and then it wouldn't be so awesomely portable. There simply isn't anything better for field repairs.
If you want to run this off a LiPo, you'll need an 2.5mm to XT60 cable. You can make your own, or buy one at GetFPV.
TOP OF THE LINE
This is widely considered to be the best soldering iron a hobbyist can choose. The 888D has digital push-button temperature control with five presets to quickly choose whichever temperature is right for the job. Comes with a sturdy base and sponge holder.
A carpenter has a hammer; a butcher has a knife; and an electronics hobbyist must own a multimeter. Without one, you can't know what the electricity is doing on your quad. For example, here's a video I made showing how to verify polarity and voltage with a multimeter.
Cheap and effective
This has been my favorite multimeter for as long as I've been in this hobby. Once, I bought a "better" one and I hated it. This meter has all of the things I actually use, right on the main dial. It's compact enough to easily stuff in a flight bag. More expensive meters have additional precision, reliability, and features, but I'd rather just spend $20 on this one.
Top of the line
Fluke makes top-quality commercial test equipment for electronics professionals. For an electronics hobbyist, this is probably the last meter you'll ever need to buy. It has features that the Innova doesn't, such as capacitance and frequency measurement. But the real reason you'll pay $150 for this meter is Fluke's well-earned reputation for accuracy and bulletproof reliability.
DC-capable CLAMP METER
The beautiful thing about a clamp-meter is that it can measure current simply by clamping its jaws around the wire. You won't understand how liberating this is until you've tried measuring current with a regular meter for a while. It used to be the case that only expensive clamp meters could measure DC current--you know, the kind that we're using? But this one is cheap and capable.
You might be tempted to buy only this meter, but I don't recommend doing that. Accessing common functions requires annoying button presses. If the day finally comes that it's worth $35 to you to easily measure current, this is the meter you'll buy. Until then, stick with one of the others.
Here's the dirty secret of multimeters: cheap ones can be just as accurate and precise as expensive ones. In fact, the 9999 count precision of the AN8008 trounces the 600 count precision of the Fluke 115 above. But it turns out, it's just not that hard to precisely measure voltage and current. If you don't believe me, check out EEVBlog's review of this meter.
So what do you give up with a cheaper meter like the AN8008? Durability? Sure. And safety. Think twice before using this meter to probe a 240 volt mains circuit! But for a hobbyist working on low voltage signals and not bashing the meter around in the back of a truck all day, a meter like the AN8008 will more than get the job done.
This meter's 9999-counts make it perfect for measurements where high precision is required, such as calibrating a LiPo battery charger.
Here's a dirty secret of the RC industry: a lot of the time, nobody is actually quality-checking the antennas they sell you. The antennas are usually designed correctly. Then they go to manufacturing and ... everybody just hopes they're manufactured correctly. If they perform badly, they hope you won't notice.
In order to test an antenna's performance, you need a tool like the N1201SA SWR meter. The asking price of almost $200 is much less than the thousands of dollars these devices usually cost. So what's the catch? One limitation of the N1201SA is that it only measures up to 2.7 GHz. So it'll be great for testing 2.4 GHz receiver antennas, 900 MHz Crossfire or R9 antennas, or anything of lower frequencies. The one place it won't work is with 5.8 GHz FPV antennas--unfortunately, where it might be the most useful.
If you've ever heard stories about FrSky receiver antennas being the wrong length, resulting in reduced range and failsafes, this is the tool you'd use to detect and fix that problem.
Diagonal cutters for small electronics are designed to cut the wire flush with the board, leaving no protruding ends to short out. The good news with this product is that you don't have to spend a lot to get a top-notch brand name like Hakko.
Capri Tools 20011
This tool isn't absolutely essential, because you can strip wire with a diagonal cutter, an X-acto knife, or even just your fingernails. But you'll have a much easier time and get more consistent results using an automatic wire stripper. If you've got a few dollars more to spend, toss it on top of your shopping cart and never look back.
HELPING HANDS TOOL
Soldering, by its nature, requires at least four hands: one for the iron, one for the solder, and one for each of the two (or more) parts that you are soldering. The "Helping Hands" tool holds the parts you're soldering while you manipulate the iron and solder. If you have prehensile toes, you can skip this section.
Pro's Kit 900-015
The simplest and most classic version of this tool is a little annoying to use. You have to manually position and screw down the arms before every move. But the price is right.
top of the line
This version of the tool gives you full freedom to place the arms exactly where you want them, without any knobs to turn. Side benefit: you can turn all your action figures into Doctor Octopus
even cheaper, maybe better
Put a lump of this on your work surface, then stick the wire to it. Do the same for the other wire. Solder. Mounting Putty is the Hobby solderer's secret. It's quick, versatile, and cheap. If you're a little creative, there's almost no joint you couldn't solder with this stuff.
i hate myself but i can't say no
REALACC 3RD HAND
The reason I hate myself for linking to this product is that it is 100% a total rip-off of the original from Hobby Creek (above). BUT IT'S SO GOOD! It has six arms instead of four, it has integrated USB charging, AND IT'S $15 CHEAPER.
So, you know, buy it.
If you can live with yourself.
DRIVERS AND WRENCHES
These may be the most fundamental tools that you'll use. It may be tempting to save some money by getting a modular tool with interchangeable bits. Don't. Having to swap bits back and forth in the middle of a build is super, super annoying. I'll show you proper tool sets with a dedicated tool for each bit, at a price you can afford.
If you're new to the world of multirotors, you might think your left-over Ikea hex-key will do. It won't. The metric screws used on quads typically have hex-heads, and a proper driver is a gift to your wrists. These are amazingly good for their price. The only catch is that you'll want to use a bit of blue Loc-tite on the grub screw that holds the bit into the handle, or it'll come loose.
To be completely honest, you're only going to use two of these on your multirotor: the 8mm and the 5.5mm. But you'll spend as much on this whole set as you would on a single driver elsewhere, so don't worry about it. And the small handles on this set are much better when working on a quad than the automotive-sized handles on most other sets.
Screw driver set
There are several sets in this listing: you want the 7 piece set. You can discard the two Torx drivers, as they're not commonly used on quads. The remaining Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers are just what you want.
In my opinion, this little beauty is the single best way to install and remove the props on your quad. The box-end of the wrench ratchets, so you get the fast on/off action without having to keep up with a socket head. And it takes less space in your tool bag than a socket.
It can be hard at first to tell which direction the ratchet will move. Here's a tip: the open-ended head is "looking" the direction that the wrench will turn the nut.
Cheapest Worth Having
Rotor Riot Kwad Tools
This tool set gets you the most common hex driver sizes and a 5.5mm box wrench for a bit less than buying the above sets separately. This is especially economical because the nut driver set above has you paying for five drivers and only really wanting two. The main thing this set is missing is an 8mm nut driver for prop nuts, but I prefer a ratcheting box wrench for that anyway.
The Spedix Quad Wrench might just dethrone the ratcheting box wrench (above) as my favorite way to install and remove props. The problem with nut drivers is that you lack torque, and they don't ratchet so it takes longer to use. The Spedix Quad Wrench solves these problems. It's got an internal one-way bearing that lets you ratchet the nut on or off. One end of the wrench turns the nut on; one end turns the nut off. The handle gives more torque than a typical nut driver, while taking up less size in your tool bag. The big advantage of the Spedix Quad Wrench compared to the ratcheting box wrench is if you have props with a tall blade that makes it hard to get a flat wrench onto the nut. The Quad Wrench fits onto any prop and keeps your fingers away from the sharp edge of the blade.
When I learned how amazing forceps are, I was kind of mad at medical professionals for not telling me sooner. This may be the single most versatile tool you'll ever own. The long, curved nose lets you get into the type of tight areas that are common on mini-quads. The scissors-style handle gives more strength and precision than a tweezers. And it locks shut so you can set it down and do something else with your hand if you need to. As soon as you own a forceps, you'll want several more to keep around your house. IF THERE IS ONE TOOL ON THIS PAGE THAT YOU BUY, buy this one.
These pliers are just the right size for when you need to apply a little more force, such as removing a broken prop hub that's stuck on a motor. The narrow tip means they can double as a crimper for some of the small connectors used on quads.
Cross-Lock Tweezers Set
Straight, 45°, 90°
Cross-lock tweezers beat regular tweezers because they apply pressure when you release them, so they'll keep holding on to your work even if you set them down. A forceps will lock tight and potentially damage something delicate. A cross-lock tweezers is the right tool for more delicate work.
5 kg capacity / 1g precision
I think this scale is perfect for a quadcopter builder's bench. The 1-gram precision is enough to weigh objects like frames or motors. The 5 kg capacity means you can weigh heavier objects like parcels. There's a reasonably large bed so that you can weigh objects without covering up the screen.
HOT AIR GUN
The main use for a heat gun is to shrink heat-shrink insulation. Yeah, you can just use electrical tape for everything, but heat shrink is way neater and less prone to failure.
Small, cheap, portable
For the majority of builders who simply need somethng to make heat shrink, shrink, this tool is totally sufficient. Larger heat guns will cost more and take up more space on your bench, to little benefit. Here's a link to the 220v version for people in countries that use it.
LARGE, POWERful, VERSATILE
wAGNER ht 1000
There are two reasons you'd buy this gun. One, if you want to do more than just shrink insulation on your quad, a bigger heat gun will have more applications. Want to remove paint from your walls? This is the gun for you.
Reason number two is that you think bigger, hotter, more powerful is better, and you like the idea of melting random plastic items around your house with 1200 Watts of POWAH!
HOT GLUE GUN
The main use of a hot glue gun in RC is building foam-board airplanes. Ever since I got into multirotors, I don't find that I use my hot glue gun very much. Hot glue is heavy, and it doesn't stick to carbon or metal very well. But this product is considered to be a staple of the RC world by so many people that I'm including it anyway. Let's face it... once you can stick things together with hot glue, you never look at the world the same way again.
There are two types of glue stick on the market: low-temp and high-temp. Low-temp is for scrap-booking. For hobby use, you want high-temp, and all of the guns on this page are capable of melting a high-temp stick.
Most glue guns are either fixed-temperature, or they have switchable low/high temperature. This one has an adjustable dial that lets you pick the exact temperature that melts your glue without burning your work piece. Nice!
top of the line
This gun was made famous by the most prolific foam-board builders in the world: Flite Test. It's a monster. 200 watts of power heat it up in no time. A wide, stable base somehow manages to also stay out of the way when you're using it. You'll feel like such a badass when you're holding this gun that you'll want to make a holster and wear it all day. AND YOU'LL MAKE THE HOLSTER WITH THE GUN!
If you want to support the Flite Test team, you can pay $8 more and order it from them.
needle file set
You'll use these files to modify and clean up carbon fiber frame parts, as well as do minor metal-working, such as cleaning up the cut end of a screw that you shortened. The files are small, but so are the parts you'll be working on.
The Amazon set is slightly different than the Rotor Riot set. Check both out and see which one you like best.
iGaging Absolute Origin
You can easily pay hundreds of dollars for a Japanese-made digital caliper. That's overkill for most hobbyists though. I've owned the iGaging Absolute Origin digital caliper for over a year now and can recommend it heartily. I prefer the six-inch version with fractions-of-an-inch, which comes in around $50. Those in metric countries can skip the fractions mode and save $10. Ten dollars just for fractions? Really! That's the price I pay for living somewhere that uses Imperial units I guess.
Absolute origin means that it remembers the zero-position in between uses. You don't have to re-zero it each time like older calipers. Resolution of 0.01mm and accuracy of 0.02mm are more than most hobbyists will ever need. It's even got USB output for rapid entry of measurements into a spreadsheet.